This morning I was saddened by the story of an African from the East African country of Uganda, who was brutalised by police in Ukraine. The violation, reported by Human Rights First, is a grim reminder of the vulnerability of Africans living in Ukraine and beyond.
According to Kyiv Post, the alleged brutalisation of Steven Okurut happened on 18 July 2010 in a supermarket in Karkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine. On this fateful day, the Ugandan was approached by two police officers and summoned to a "secluded room" on the second floor, where the officers searched, physically and verbally harassed the unsuspecting Steven Okurut. Steven was suspected of "harboring and trafficking drugs" (a common suspicion faced by Africans in this part of the world). During the encounter, Steven Okurut endured blows to the head, shoulders and thighs. It is worth mentioning that the officers allegedly extorted money from the Ugandan.
The alleged brutalisation of Steven Okurut by police officers highlights the plight of foreigners with non-slavic appearance in Ukraine - many of whom are caught between the devil and deep blue sea, with the police on one hand and ultra nationalist groups on the other hand.
Where should victims of such racially motivated crimes turn to for protection, if the police cannot protect them?
Xenophobia is reportedly a growing concern among foreigners in Ukraine. In an article published on the Huffington Post, the President of African Center in Kyiv, Ukraine - Charles Asante-Yeboa described a gruesome attack he miraculously survived in the hands of a group of young men at a bus top near Shuliavska - a station on Kyiv metro line in the Capital and largest city of Ukraine. The must-read article reveals that racist violence in Ukraine is "rampant and unpredictable" - a practice that has claimed many African lives, including Julius Igbodunu Azike, Joseph Bunta, Gbenda-Charles Victor, et al.
The recent alleged police brutalisation of Steven Okurut is testament to the extraordinary violence against foreigners in Ukraine. The government of Ukraine should investigate such violations without delay and ensure that perpetrators of hate crimes and violence, many of whom enjoy impunity, bear the full weight of the law. This would go a long way to guarantee the security of foreigners living in Ukraine. Impunity is not an option.
Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe and the state is scheduled to co-host the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer championship.
Prior to South Africa 2010, the media was flooded with crime alerts and negative criticism of the African powerhouse. Perhaps the criticism encouraged the authorities to work harder to guarantee security. Has Ukraine been issued a blank check ahead of Euro 2012?
It remains to be seen whether xenophobia, hate crimes against foreigners, police brutality and extortion in Ukraine would be curbed before thousands of soccer fans storm Ukraine in 2012.
*Photo: Kyiv Post.
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